Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Winning the Rat(atouille) Race

Now that the dust has settled from the 2007 summer movie box office derby, I thought it was a good time to reflect again on a certain little rat and and what has been his very much understated impact on an industry that so often can only find validation in skewered number crunching and hollow punditry.

It has been just a little less than four months since Ratatouille was released in theaters, yet it is fast approaching a worldwide box office gross of a half a billion dollars. And it remains one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2007. It has for the most part shed the loud but still generally minimal anti-Disney-Pixar-merger baggage that some analysts kept handcuffing to it, but there is still the occasional saber rattle from those unwilling to give up what has become an increasingly weak supposition.

Ratatouille is certainly an unqualified success, both critically and financially. In animated circles, while it could not compete quite on the level of the well-established Shrek franchise, its box office remained greater than that of The Simpson's Movie, despite that film's blockbuster $70 million opening and over saturated media blitz.

I will unapologetically acknowledge that I have long championed the Disney-Pixar marriage. For doing so, I have been described by some as an uneducated pollyanna with a clear fan-rooted bias, clinging to an unrealistic view of what is ultimately a financially driven dynamic. By not consistently addressing Disney's entertainment endeavors from perspectives relating to corporate politics and fiscal performance, I have been told that I am essentially engaging in Mickey Mouse journalism of the most irresponsible nature.

It is a criticism that truly befuddles me.

I have always attempted to apply my college education in journalism and communications to my efforts here at 2719 Hyperion. Blogs tend to be very personal reflections of their authors rather than disciplined exercises in journalism, and in that regard, 2719 Hyperion very distinctly represents my lifelong passion for Disney entertainment. But I feel that that does not necessarily preempt the need to apply long respected principles of journalistic responsibility to what is still a very public forum for ideas and information.

When reporting news and writing feature stories, I strive for accuracy and always attempt to clearly attribute my sources. If a source is questionable or unnamed, I make every effort to identify it as such. Reviews, criticisms, and commentaries are labeled as such to reflect their typically subjective content and opinions.

But, at the end of the day, I'm still essentially doing what I do because I love Disney. As the header says, I'm addressing the many worlds of Disney entertainment. Entertainment.

And the heart of Disney entertainment is unbridled, inspired creativity, rooted in the dogged determination, passion and unbending commitment to quality demonstrated by the company's founder and namesake. Sure, it is an idealistic sentiment that has at times been undermined by uninspired executives, boardroom politics and monetary motivations. But it is in fact the nucleus of Disney fandom. We do not arrive at our passions because of interests in corporate governance, financial ledgers and monetary projections.

And while one could never at any point deem those subjects irrelevant, when it comes to Disney entertainment, they must always be viewed within the context of supporting creative visions and providing quality products. I begrudge no one who embraces the task of reporting or commenting on the Disney company from a strictly fiscal perspective. It is simply not my mission here.

What was so incredibly frustrating about the sound bites and punditry that emerged following the Disney-Pixar acquisition was that it was all about numbers. Everything about the merger was quick to be judged solely on basis of box office revenues. The financial performances of Cars and then Ratatouille became the focal points of discussions while their creative merits were either completely ignored or quickly dismissed.

At a recent conference with analysts from Goldman Sachs, Disney CEO Bob Iger made the following comments that speak to financial strategies rooted in creative dynamics, as relating specifically to the Pixar acquisition:

Well, I think the number one success would be the strengthening of our management, in particular our creative management in animation at the company. John Lasseter and Ed Catmull are applying their talents, which are considerable, to Disney animated films. Their first film will be out the end of next year, meaning next calendar year, called Bolt, which is renamed from American Dog, which we feel very optimistic about. But in general, the leadership that they brought to Disney animation I think has been not just greatly needed, but really impactful. I think the results that we will ultimately see from that, and time will tell, will make a big difference.

He concluded his presentation by saying:

I think more than anything, focusing on quality and creative success is critical, and creating more ways to generate creative success is also very important. So we're very optimistic about the company's prospects.

Creative success. Quality. And nowhere are those words more fitting than in describing a little character named Remy, both within the context of the wonderful story that was Ratatouille and the creative process the film ultimately came to validate and represent.

And a half a billion dollars ain't nothing to sneeze at either.

19 comments:

Disneyana World said...

For some reason, I get the vibe that people wanted this movie to fail. I thought it did tremendous business and everybody seems to like it.

My friend is a very talented illustrator and he said 'Ratatouille' was "amazing" and "one of the best movies" he has seen this year. He is one of the hardest people on earth to please and his reaction to the movie says it all.

FoxxFur said...

"Hollow punditry"? I like that phrase. =)

y'know, I think ultimately what we write in the first few months of our existence as online (journalists/personalities/bloggers/commentators) informs so much of our public image and, ultimately, what we start turning out ourselves. The fact that Jim Hill recently pointed his readers to here and Blue Sky Disney due to the fact that you and Honor Hunter apparently only run "positive" pieces and presented this as a viable alternative to his bitching is kind of indicative of the attitude certain members of the Disney online elite - those people who seek to make your opinions for you and you know those four or five people of whom I speak - hold these establishments as.

I think somebody who writes such nice pieces about the history and fun of Disney isn't the weaker link in the chain of self-pitying complaining which constitutes so much of what we find online today, where every product is rated and agreed on weeks before its' release. The person who writes his passion and enjoyment is the strong link. In a few week's time most of Jim Hill's opinions are disposable, but we'll be reading back issues of The E Ticket for as long as the paper will hold up.

Even I got rather stuck in a bit of a rut after my first few blog posts. I originally intended my blog to be much of picture and silliness based than it is now, but after those Marc Davis posts, I totally changed courses.

What I'm saying is: don't let people decide for you who you are. We're living in an online culture ruled by ego and people who want to hang onto the mediocre bit of power they hold over people to make of break opinions. I've been working to change the public opinion on certain things for as long as I've been writing Passport and I'm only just now starting to see results.

And, all that having been said, Ratatouille is a far better and more lasting film than the current money cow Cars is. I think the fact that Lesseter and Jobs and Iger know that it's a masterpiece helps. Even Walt hated Alice and Sleeping Beauty for failing to connect with audiences and being artistically daring. I really think the three Pixars that we'll be watching thirty years from now will be Monsters Inc and Ratatouille and Incredibles. They have a classicism that doesn't go bad.

John G said...

It is funny to see how perspectives change based on some pre-judged expectations. The numbers that 'Ratatouille' generated could have made the year (and then some) of other studios -- especially when you add the foreign box office take to the totals. But if it can't do Lion King numbers plus interest, it somehow becomes a failure?

Thankfully, content has generally been King with Disney (biting my tongue about a pocket of time in there . . .). How else can you keep making money using 7 year re-release schedules?

I was entertained, but not wowed by 'Ratatouille' . . . until Anton Ego showed up to get a helping of "enlightenment." And at the moment he tasted, the movie moved from good to great. Incredible visualization and terrific voice work by Peter O'Toole.

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

A degree in Journalism and Communication. It wouldn't be from the fabulous school of Journalism at UNC-CH would it?

That explains a lot to me. You always had a polished and exacting tone to your pieces. Not so grammatically willy-nilly with a dash of stream-of-consciousness like mine.

You definitely had the air of someone trained in the art of word smithing.

Someone asked me the other day on how you can determine if something is a success. I told them that it's purely subjective in my opinion because you could poll 10 different people and probably get 10 different matrix on how to make the determination.

I agree with Disneyana World that there seems to be a vibe that people wanted this movie to fail.

I think it's that odd phenomenon of where people like to see the successful fail when they become too successful

Cory The Raven said...

I ignore the creative content simply because I'm tired of repetition of the theme of the smart, hip, winking secret life of toys/bugs/monsters/cars/fish/rats. Get it: they're funny because they're just like us!!1!

I'm also tired of the oversaturation of everything Pixar in the parks (in addition, I grant, to the other "P's": pirates and princesses)... Especially the things pre-merger that Disney didn't even have anything to do with. If they're going to be making rides about things they simply distributed, I'd rather see a My Neighbour Totoro catbus ride in California Adventure's Ghibliland.

In theory I should like Pixar movies since we actually do have the same sense of humour, but I dunno'... I'm kinda' sick of Pixar at this point. I've got nothing against the management, nothing against Lasseter or anything. I'm just tired of Pixar.

Unless, that is, they're able to actually break their own mold with Princess of Mars... so long as it's not the hip, smart, winking secret life of martians.

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Jeff,

Ratatouille completely spellbound my 3 year-old son and my 63 year-old father--and everyone in between at that showing. I walked away knowing that this film would be hailed as a masterpiece in storytelling and for visual entertainment.

(Brown-nosing alert)

When Andrew and I started our blog, we used you as an inspiration. Not only the look, but the professional and positive attitude, as well. To this day, you have one of the most professional and popular Disney related blogs out there. Who wants to read negative dribble, anyway? When you first referred to yourself self-deprecatingly as being overly Pollyanna, I thought it was apt. The world needs more "positivity,"
especially intelligent "positivity."

I'm proud to be associated with you and proud to call you friend.

(End brown-nosing)

I think I can speak for all of us (Chris and Ray, at least) that we've got your back!

Menick said...

Unusual post...

I don't know how representative I am of just the general visitor, as compared to the fellow Disney bloggers whose comments preceded mine, but I will freely admit that 2719 is the only blog I visit daily without fail. The combination of knowledge and enthusiasm and skill won me over long ago. In a word, it's fun. I like the mix. I like the dedication. I have no interest in Disney bashing, even though there are things I like and things I don't like (and things I disagree with you on and things I agree with you on).

As for the content of your post, to be honest, before I saw the movie I was predicting that Ratatouille's box office would be dramatically higher than predicted, exactly because of the absurdity of the pre-release negativity. I felt likewise when the reviews came out. I felt likewise again when I saw it. It's a pretty good movie (but I'll admit, sucker that I am, that I've like all the Pixar films). Go figure.

Anyhow, viva Jeff Pepper. If it wasn't for 2719, I wouldn't have any blogs to go to on a daily basis that are guaranteed to leave me with a smile on my face.

Brant said...

I was just getting ready to post my thoughts when I read menick's post. I could not agree more.

I simply do not enjoy reading or hearing the constant complaining about Disney.

Thanks for the great blog, the fascinating details that will make our next trip to WDW that much better, and the fantastic podcast.

Nic Kramer said...

I too am getting sink of this Disney bashing espically how people like animator Michal Sporn "celebrate" the release of Walt's last animated film" The Jungle Book" on DVD by bashing the whole movie on their blog! I know this film lead to some bad habits of Walt's staff in almost all the animated features between 1970-1981, but if it weren't for this film, the Disney company might've faded in obscurity.

Jeff, your blog in my opinion is best Disney fan blog I ever read. My favorite posts on this blog are the ones about the somewhat under-rated animated shorts. Before I started to focus on the more loud cartoons of Warner Brothers, the Disney shorts were my bread and butter for my classic animation fix. Keep up the good work and I hope you do a post about "The Pointer" in the future.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, articulate piece. I appreciate your blog along with a small handful of others that manages to keep the Disney information at the forefront. These blogs should be fun! I'm so tired of some of these other blogs and their grandstanding. Their thinly veiled attempts to push their points by positioning the facts is unfortunate. The blog loses credibility because of it. Their "Hey-I'm-Just-Telling-It-Like-It-Is" stance is transparent and embarrassing. Thank you for presenting the articles and letting the fun shine through.

Anonymous said...

Pixar was Disney and now is officially Disney. Their creative team always was and still is all about what Walt gave us. The merger was Iger's smartest move of many smart moves. Disney isn't being "inundated" with Pixar, Disney is being influenced with more great Disney.
This is another excellent article on an excellent site. (If you even bother to read a Jim Hill whine & cheese fest column or the barely-masked overall disdain of The Disney Blog, you're simply wasting what little time you have on Earth. Stop.)
Mr. Pepper is proof of the Disney philosophy. Write well based on sound research and quality will win out every time. I never miss this or the Disney Geeks.
As for Ratatouille, it is an excellent film that will easily stand the test of time. By the way, so will Cars. Please give that comparison a rest already, you whiners who simply can't let that go. We're allowed to like more than one film at a time, OK?

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

To me whether or not a film can stand up to the test of time is moot. I very rarely ever watch a movie more than once or read a book more than once. Once I know the ending, I don't have a desire to go through the process again.

If I do, perchance, watch a movie again, significant time has gone past and then it's mainly because I have had some emotional attachment to the piece. Which means it's relevance over time is meaningless because of the emotional attachment.

So, these discussions about whether or not a particular movie will age just provide me entertainment because it doesn't pertain to me.

Anonymous said...

Ray, according to your theory, you've only had sex once...why bother doing it twice, since you know the ending, right? ;)

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

Anonymous,

Who says that I haven't only done it once....just kidding

But in all seriousness, there is a big difference between watching a movie or reading a book and the activity in which you refer (this is a family friend site;))

In the case of the one, we are hard-wired to enjoy it. It's essential for the preservation of our species. In the case of books and movies, we are not.

To me, all the enjoyment I get is derived from the ride and trying to figure out how the story is going to conclude before it ends.

Once I know how everything happens, it really isn't that entertaining to me anymore.

Granted, if the finish of a book and movie has the same chemical response as the other act you mentioned, the story could be different. But for me it does not

Jeff Pepper said...

Just curious Ray--

How do you reconcile that dynamic with what seems to be your clear love of theme park entertainment, which is clearly overwhelming in its repetitive nature?

As with any form of entertainment, there always seems to be an enormous amount I miss on the first swing. I just discovered that most especially when I revisited Meet the Robinsons on DVD.

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

Jeff,

You busted me….lol

But if it pleases the court, I'd like a little time to draft my defense

Anonymous said...

ray,
You're a good guy, but your defense of only watching a film once should simply be your own chosen habit. It needn't be defined or justified. But I'm glad I don't share that same habit!

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for calling me a good guy (I really am...haha).

My defense, that I'm referring to is that Jeff has caught me in a serious logic flaw. It has caused me to do alot of internal reflection lately on why that is.

Because if I won't watch a movie twice because I know the ending, one should also not go to a theme park twice because you've already done it. Why is that not the case for me.

I actually am going to pirate the idea for a blog post because it's so intriguing for me and fits well into the theme of my blog. Of course, I'll give a healthy nod to the man who inspired the idea

Grumpwurst (Ray) said...

Jeff,

You asked a very good question of me and as I said in my last response, I pirated it as a blog post.

I have put my response on my blog as to why I can go to the parks multiple times but not seem to view a movie more than once.

Granted it's a lengthy response. Hence the separate blog post. But, do I ever seem to write anything short. My trip reports are small dissertations.....lol

Why I return to the Disney Theme Parks